1. Dinking and dunking
On the opening drive of Sunday’s game, Patrick Mahomes resembled Alex Smith more than himself.
Last week, I suggested that the Chiefs might want to consider running the ball a bit more or try to keep Mahomes from swinging for the fences quite so often. This idea was treated with derision by a number of commenters — and I understand their point of view.
But here we are a week later, and Andy Reid’s famous scripted plays to begin the game didn’t include deep shots from his new quarterback. The opening touchdown drive wasn’t the longest touchdown drive the Chiefs have run after a kickoff since the season began, but it was close — consuming 4:55 on 11 plays.
I’m not suggesting that the Chiefs should revert to this style of play. But they must be able to do it. They aren’t always going to have the luxury of being ahead by multiple scores. Sometimes, they’re going to have to eat clock with a less-commanding lead — or face a defense that will be specifically designed to shut down the Chiefs deep passing game — and the Chiefs must be able to dink and dunk.
And score a touchdown anyway.
On Sunday, Reid satisfied himself that his offense can successfully operate that way. Perhaps more importantly, he demonstrated to the league’s defensive coordinators that just taking the top off the Chiefs offense isn’t going to work.
2. Justin Houston: valuable contributor, or overpaid has-been?
I’m starting to see this narrative more and more: that Houston isn’t worth what he’s being paid. He’s no longer interested in being a great player. He’s gotten his payday, and he’s coasting.
I will make no attempt to characterize Houston’s state of mind because I don’t have any idea what he’s thinking. And neither do you. There are people who probably know more than we do, but they aren’t talking — and furthermore, they’re not going to start.
But I will say this: in two consecutive games, Houston has made game-changing plays that were nullified by penalties called against the Chiefs secondary. How much of the narrative about the Chiefs defense — and Houston himself — would be different if those plays had counted?
Say what you will about Houston. When the game was on the line on Sunday, he made a play. In the fourth quarter, on second-and goal from the 12, Houston changed it to third-and goal-from the 20. It was a play that changed the potential outcome of the game.
That’s what he gets paid to do.
3. And about that third-and-20...
At least for that next play — when Jimmy Garoppolo tried to turn a scramble into a touchdown run, Steven Nelson stood up and made a play, too.
As the TV commentators correctly pointed out, Nelson made a solid, legal hit on a quarterback who was trying to stretch the play — not one who was surrendering himself. It’s now being reported that the 49ers fear their high-priced franchise quarterback may be lost for the season with an ACL injury. So it’s possible that Garoppolo will have some extra time to consider whether his decision was wise.
In the meantime... well done, Mr. Nelson.
4. A non-offensive line
Going into the game, I pointed out that so far, the Chiefs offensive line — even with Cam Erving at left guard — has provided decent protection for Patrick Mahomes. That continued on Sunday. That’s the first box we all want to see checked on the offensive line’s to-do list.
We would, of course, also like to see the ground game for the Chiefs improve. It’s not acceptable for Kareem Hunt to get 44 yards on 18 carries — especially on a day where two rushers on the opposing team combined for well more than twice that much.
I understand that Hunt had nothing to do with how many yards the 49ers gained. But the Chiefs aren’t going to be able to consistently win games with such a lopsided ratio of rushing yards. Much of that responsibility falls on the offensive line — and they need to do better.
But let’s give them credit: when it really mattered — just like with Houston and Nelson — the offensive line did its job. Hunt was unobstructed on both of his touchdown runs, and the blocking on Hunt’s 10-yard run to seal the victory was a thing of beauty.
Men of the offensive trenches: keep watching film of those plays. That’s the way to do it.
5. No defense for the defense
Other than their ability of stand up when there’s a lot on the line — where previously noted — there’s not much good to say about the Chiefs defense. Once again, we saw the unit give up a lot of yards by exhibiting poor tackling and blowing coverages.
But it’s worth noting that the Chiefs defense seems to be able to do a decent job — which is all that is really required of them for the team to be successful, given the explosive offense Reid has assembled. They just can’t do it for a whole game. They put in a solid quarter against the Chargers, three solid quarters against the Steelers, and two solid quarters against the 49ers. If they could just play with more consistency, there might not be a lot to worry about.
But we haven’t seen that yet — and the clock is ticking. The Broncos will be a difficult opponent, but the Jaguars are now looming large on the schedule, too. Whatever it is, they need to figure out, and they’d better do it soon.